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|Undocumentedness: Theater, Experimental Performance, and New Media|
Undocumentedness: Theater, Experimental Performance, and New Media – Resource Guide
Christopher Goodson, PhD
This resource guide offers materials to educators, students, and researchers that relate to undocumented immigration’s intersection with theater, performance, and new media in the United States. The links and articles here are curated from across a spectrum that ranges from stage plays that negotiate issues of undocumentedness, theatrical companies producing new work, as well as performative projects that operate within the genres of installed art, experimental video, immigrant testimony, political protest, feature films, and narrative web series. Additionally, the current political movement of undocumented youth in the US is viewed here as an inherently performative practice, one that depends on public representations and visibility to enhance the movement’s effectiveness. Key articles from the fields of anthropology, sociology, as well as theater and art criticism are included here so that the user may better understand the socio-political, cultural, and economic issues that relate to undocumented immigration. Please consider adding resources from your own college, art institution, or local community.
Christopher Goodson holds a PhD in Theater History, Theory, and Criticism from the University of Washington’s School of Drama. As a host committee member of the Latinx Theatre Commons steering committee convening in Seattle (April 2016), Christopher has presented on the history of Latinx Theatre in the Pacific Northwest as well as the Seattle-based work of Maria Irene Fornés. Christopher’s recent doctoral research investigated contemporary performance practices that collaborate with undocumented communities. He currently teaches Theatre History at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington.
1. READINGS ON UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRATION
The following readings are meant to provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the economic, socio-political, legislative, and historical factors that have both impacted and continue to define undocumented immigration in the United States. Undocumented immigrants (often referred to as “illegal immigrants”) are routinely criminalized and homogenized in mainstream discourse, which rarely provides a nuanced examination of the issues at hand, including the legislative construction (and racialization) of the “illegal immigrant” (Ngai), or the function of undocumentedness within current regimes of globalized neoliberalism both within and beyond the borders of the US (Gutiérrez).
By engaging with the following texts, the reader comes to understand key aspects of the issue: factors leading to undocumented immigration, global remittance trends, health, gender, and sexuality (Lorentzen), how biopolitics and the governance of the body determines the existential state of Latinx youth (Gonzales and Chavez), how legislative regimes within the US constitute a form “legal violence” wielded against undocumented immigrants who have sought refuge from political violence in their countries of origin (Menjívar), contemporary statistics related to undocumented immigration (Passel & Cohn; US Congressional Budget Office), and how the performative nature of media spectacles conspire to control the debate (Chavez). These readings are meant to enhance the reader’s examination of the ever-growing number of performative projects curated below that seek to mediate one of the most significant social issues of our time.
The following articles related to undocumented immigration are available through most institutional libraries and online databases (JSTOR, Project Muse, etc.). To request a pdf file of any of the articles below, please contact Kareem Khubchandani at email@example.com.
2: STAGE PLAYS DEPICTING UNDOCUMENTEDNESS
Photo: Los Illegals by Michael John Garcés (2007)
The stage plays in the following section reflect the ever-growing interest of contemporary playwrights who seek to explore the myriad conditions related to undocumentedness in live, theatrical performance. The plays range across a variety of genres and therefore negotiate undocumentedness in distinct ways. Whether these scripts come from Pulitzer Prize-nominated authors (Lydia) or writers who are just beginning to explore the medium of theater (Esperando is Waiting), the list curated here is intended to give the reader a sense of the breadth of what has recently been produced, and to provoke questions related to the importance of theatrical representations that attempt to make undocumentedness visible. Additionally, the suggested readings are intended to provide examples of how scholars (Guterman) and scholar/artists (Marin) have recently examined the complex nature of producing these works.
The play scripts are included here with the express permission by the author/publisher, and are for educational and research purposes only. Any interest in production by any party must contact the author/publisher and abide by laws pertaining to royalties and copyright protections.
Exercise/Questions: Read a selection of the following plays and compare the different dramaturgical approaches to the subject: How do representations of undocumentedness function across the lines of Solo Performance/Testimony (La Vida Loca), Musical (Maricopa), Adaptation (Don Quixote: Homeless in Seattle, Los Illegals), Poetic Realism (Lydia), Docu-Drama (The Women of Juárez), Memory Play (Esperando is Waiting), etc.? How do the depictions of undocumentedness differ? What is the outcome for the undocumented characters? What is revealed about the nature of undocumentedness by the characterizations or the events in the play? Further, in what ways can theatrical performance function as a platform for claims for justice, activism, visibility, and community-building?
PDF Play Scripts:
PDF Play Scripts/Companies:
Readings Regarding Stage Plays:
3: EXPERIMENTAL PERFORMANCE/VIDEO
Photo: Maria TV by Rodrigo Valenzuela (2014)
The performance projects in the following section range from studio-devised experimental videos to musical acts and short films. Outside the bounds of traditional “theater,” these projects sometimes operate within the informal cash economy, hiring day labor and immigrant performers to explore their own subjectivity at the hands of a guiding artist (Pulpo/Octopus, Maria TV, Work Like a Dog). This practice is in line with what art critic Claire Bishop defines as “delegated performance,” wherein amateur performers are hired to provide the embodied material in service of a greater artistic vision (Bishop). Other projects operate along the lines of virtual reality (Zietchik), border crossing reenactment (Underiner), and day laborers as paid political protestors (Newman, et al.). The readings and links at the end of the section are suggested to enhance the reader’s understanding of the complex social, legal, personal, and psychological realities that relate to the paradigms of day labor and domestic work, industries that deeply intersect with undocumented immigration.
Exercises / Questions:
Watch a selection of the performances along with the suggested readings. What does Bishop mean by “delegated performance”? How does it differ from the performance art traditions of the 60s and 70s? What are the possible stakes for different communities when contracted by an artist for “delegated performance?” For what reasons do any of the performances below seem to challenge, or exist outside of, Bishop’s paradigm?
Choose two of the clips below for comparison. How do the aesthetics of the performances differ? What is the overall effect of the video on the viewer? What does the artist’s and/or producer’s intention seem to be? Who seems to be the intended audience? In what ways do the practices of immigrant workers as paid performers (Pulpo/Octopus), the tourism industry (Underiner), or museum/gallery installation (Maria TV, Work Like a Dog, Iñarritu’s VR project) complicate any altruistic intentions behind the work?
Links to Performance:
4: FEATURES, SERIES, AND DOCUMENTARY FILMS
Photo: Undocumented Tales by Armando Ibanez
The links in the following section take the user to narrative films (A Better Life, Lone Star, El Norte), documentary films (La Bestia, Maid in America), and web-based series that explore undocumented immigration and its intersection with family structures, labor systems, and sexuality, among other issues (Undocumented Tales).
In what aesthetic and/or structural ways do these filmic projects below differ? For instance, what kinds of narratives are presented, and in what ways? By whom are the narratives constructed? For instance, examine two of the interviews below (Weitz, Prado) or seek out other filmmaker interviews online to compare and contrast the differing filmmaker biographies and goals. Pairing Weitz’s interview with Prado’s, how can we open up conversations about authorship, artistic intention, economic resources, and performer agency? Alternately, how does a project like Undocumented Tales blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction? How do the varying narratives found within the films either reinforce and/or challenge the sociological information found in the readings of the first section of this resource guide? (See Gonzales & Chavez, Menjívar, Cornelius, etc.)
5: EDUCATION, NEW MEDIA, AND GRASSROOTS ACTIVISM
The resources curated in the following section (academic articles, web-based readings, video links, interactive media projects, instances of activism, and public ceremonies) all engage performatively with the issues surrounding the United States’ current situation with undocumented immigration. The visibility and divisiveness of this issue has become more public recently, especially with the election of President Donald Trump, whose campaign rhetoric vilified undocumented immigrants (see RNC 2016 video), and who has now decided to phase out former President Barack Obama’s executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA (see Obama Remarks 2012), which protected qualifying undocumented immigrants with deportation deferral.
In order that the guide user becomes familiar with arguments of varying perspective (and mediatization), links provided here profile both anti-undocumented immigrant media (Fox News, Breitbart, RNC 2016) and media that supports the diverse voices within undocumented communities (Define American, Fotohistorias, UndocuMedia).
Examine the language and/or rhetoric employed in the varying media sources below. For instance, in what critical ways does the narrative and/or point of view differ between platforms such as The O’Reilly Factor and DefineAmerican? How are the videos and/or images presented? Who participates and under what circumstances? Whose voices come across? What, if any, of the finer points of the debate surrounding undocumented immigration are addressed? What can open comment threads on sites such as Breitbart tell us about perspectives we may not share or are not familiar with?
Define American: Culture organization founded by Jose Antonio Vargas that uses the “power of story” to shift the conversation about immigration:
Republican National Convention (2016): “Family of People Killed by Undocumented Immigrants Speak Out at RNC,” By Jessica Hopper, ABC News, July 18, 2016
Barack Obama’s DACA Statement: “Remarks by the President,” by Barack Obama, White House Archives, June 15, 2012
UndocuMedia: Digital and social media empowering undocumented communities
Photo: Fotohistorias (2017)
Fotohistorias: Participatory Photography Experiment with Migrants in Seattle, Mexico, and Columbia (2017)
6: Undocu Youth Movement: Activism, Performance, and Visibility
The resource guide’s final section is dedicated to the undocumented youth movement. Undocumented youth, whose right to public education through high school is protected by US Law, have historically gone through a process of “Learning to Be Illegal” after their high school graduations (Gonzales 2011). Undocumented youth activism, including actions surrounding the DREAM Act (first introduced in 2001), has operated via performative representations that seek to make the debate public (see Bennion 201, Kohli, et al. 2017, Corrunker 2012). Scholars like Walter J. Nicholls have argued that undocumented youth occupy a particular “niche opening” where their public voices can be successfully crafted and where a “demonstration of their humanity” can occur (Nicholls 2013). The visibility of the undocumented youth movement is a key consideration in this resource guide.
Regarding the current debate surrounding undocumented youth: What are some of the particular challenges that undocumented youth experience that their citizen fellow students do not? (see Gonzales 2011 and Corrunker 2012). What are the varying strategies that undocumented youth employ to make their voices heard? In what ways does the liveness of protest abet and/or disrupt social-media-driven narratives?
Photo: Undocu-Graduation 2016 by the WA DREAM Coalition (Seattle)
Links to Books:
Student Activist Groups and/or Campus-based Initiatives
The following section seeks to organize undocumented youth movements and campus-based initiatives across the US. If your campus supports undocumented students with official web-based resources, or if you are involved in an extra-institutional group, you are encouraged to contact ATHE so that your link can be included here.